“Stop Making Stupid People Famous”

I like street art, and this piece of it speaks to me because it’s something I’m surely guilty of: giving over some personal brain space and, more importantly, some of the finite platform that is the world stage to people who are not doing much to make the world itself much better. (I’m not interested in calling out famous individuals specifically; anyone who reads this has a clear enough understanding of who it could be referring to.)

So if we do indeed make stupid people famous, why do we do it? Do we like seeing other people make bad decisions or fail? Is it because many of these people are attractive/physically flashy in a way that makes our Culture just want to stop and stare for awhile? Do we like seeing people as two-dimensional and easily objectified more than acknowledging people that do a lot of good, but maybe don’t look like a star while doing it? Do we enjoy the spectacle of glamor and aspire to that? Isn’t there something inherently sad in making consumption and spectacle our Cultural goal? Do we really believe that excess is the goal and the best way to get happy? Is the power they have (that we are semi-ironically giving them) attractive? Or are the people this campaign refers to as “stupid” only seeming stupid because that is the media portrait we’ve cultivated of them, free of complexity, individuality, and depth? Does celebrity media need to own up to its own motives in some radical way?

The answer to most of these for me is “yes.” And personally, I try to avoid handing over my brain space to the ones I view—perhaps simplistically, I’ll admit—as “stupid people.” As much as I recognize that it’s occasionally fun to gawk at the failures of millionaires, I generally don’t follow celebrity culture unless it surrounds the people who make the art that I like.

But a bumper sticker I saw once stuck on a New York subway ad that displayed this phrase (and the other street art like it) clearly succeeded in making me think about this, long after my commute.

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2 comments

  1. Why did you choose a still image of the black and white flash back scene of kevin spaceys character in the film American Beauty for the picture at the top of your page? Just curious? Have i been the only person to notice? Thanks!

  2. Hi, Matt. I chose the image of Carolyn because “American Beauty” was a really influential film for me, growing up. I also think that she’s a really fascinating character, and this is the only moment when we see her in a state of transcendent joy. I think about memory a lot when I write, and I think this moment is such a strong example in pop culture of how we remember things and why. (And you were the first to notice!)

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